By Umar Khan.
Tripoli, 28 April:
The National Front Party will elect new leadership on 9 May in Benghazi at the end of . . .[restrict]a two-day conference. The old body of the organisation will be dissolved on 7 May after the last session of their national conference. The National Front, formerly known as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), is the oldest political organization in Libya.
It was established in 1981 as a result of the high level defection of Qaddafi’s then ambassador to India, Mohammed Yousef Magariaf. Magariaf, along with several other opposition members founded the party on 7 October 1981 with a two-point agenda: to remove Qaddafi and to transform Libya into a constitutional democracy. They made several unsuccessful armed attempts to topple the former regime, the most famous being their attack on Bab el Aziziyah (Qaddafi’s compound) in 1984.
The organisation remained active abroad as its members were forced into exile. They kept working against the regime by publishing a monthly magazine and setting up an anti-Qaddafi website. Despite all their efforts against the regime, they were skeptical of any uprising in Libya after the beginning of the Arab Awakening, admits Mohammed Ali Abdullah. He has been the deputy secretary general of NFSL since 2007. He was born into a dissident family and lived in exile for 29 years.
According to Abdullah, the NFSL was the first political organization to support the call of protests against the former regime. “Our secretary general issued a statement on 5 February calling for people to join the protests. A similar statement was issued by one of our founding members, Mohammed Magariaf.”
Abdullah also said that the NFSL had contributed to each and every phase of the revolution. “We were skeptical about Libya and yet we wanted to be ready in case something happened. We sent communication equipment to Libya in order to be able to stay in contact with the people even if they (the Qaddafi regime) disconnected the internet and telephone lines.”
After the fighting broke out, there was a shortage of supplies and as soon as Benghazi was under control, various organisations attempted to send aid into the city. The NFSL led the way according to Abdullah. “The first trucks with emergency aid to cross into Libya were arranged by the NFSL,” he said. “Throughout the revolution we also arranged trips for Libyan doctors living abroad to different Libyan cities and to field hospitals.”
After the formation of the NTC, the NFSL played an instrumental role in getting it recognized by a number of countries by using their earlier connections. “Our secretary general met with representatives from different countries to call for the recognition of the NTC and to gain support for UN resolutions,” explained Abdullah. “We called for a united front on the Security Council resolutions. We used our diplomatic relations with the U.S and the Emirati governments in order to get weapons for our revolutionaries.”
After the announcement of the liberation, the NFSL began to work on reorganising the whole party inside Libya. The NFSL announced in 1992 that after Qaddafi, the party would meet in Libya and transform itself into a political party. Abdullah said that the party would elect a new president and pass a new set of regulations when they met in Benghazi next month.
Asked if he would continue in the same post, he said that he was planning to run for the general assembly but would follow any decision made by the party. “The leadership should be totally dedicated to the party,” he said. “We need new faces and it is time to establish new leadership. I think I will be more productive in the general assembly but the final decision is with the party.”
“We enjoy good relations with Amazigh and the Tebus but we are working on improving their representation in our party,” said Abdullah, replying to a question about the popularity of the party in different areas. He added: “Right now our main focus is on the south where we have excellent support but are not organised. We are trying to organise everything. We are better represented in some areas than others; this is a weak point not only for us but for all parties. We are also working very hard to increase the participation of women in our party. We have many members who are women but not in the leadership, and we are trying to change that.”
“We have a strategy in place and the party will be ready for the June elections. But delay seems inevitable as the Electoral High Commission has failed to complete its tasks on time,” said Abdullah concerning the rumoured delay in the upcoming elections. He also said that a delay of “one to two months for purely logistical reasons would be acceptable as there is no way we can hold elections by force.”
According to Abdullah, the main competition will be with the Justice and Construction Party and Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Coalition (also known as the 17 February Coalition). He emphasized, however, that in the first elections it would be important that the the general assembly represented the whole Libyan population and had their backing.
“I also tell my colleagues from other parties that it doesn’t matter how many seats you win – just make sure you are inclusive because if we are not, no matter what we do, we will fail.” Abdullah also said that he would not mind “winning fewer seats but more representative selection in the process of establishing the constitution as it is important to have all sections of the population involved in the process. The real competition will start once the constitution is ratified.”
Talking about the vision of the National Front for the future of Libya, he said, that “we want a stable country that is open to business with a Libyan approach. We want to make sure that Libya’s resources and vast wealth are not only spent on infrastructure but on our people, education, environment and human rights.” He also said that during the 42 years of destruction, the first casualty had been the “common Libyan man” and the party wants to focus on rebuilding this by improving education and awareness.
Asked about the country he would like to use a model state, he confidently said: “No such country exists. We want to be the new model for the Middle East. We do not want to copy anybody else. We have our own legacy to build; we want others to copy it.”
Abdullah also added: “We do not want to be like the Gulf countries, where the population is very rich but not productive. We want to be a very productive society in which we are part of the production as well as the consumption.”
Speaking about the trial of Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi, he felt confident that the Libyan judiciary was fully capable of delivering justice.
“There is too much at stake. We all want it to be a model trial. It should be televised. There is enough evidence against him for him to receive the death penalty.” He also felt that it was important to conduct an exemplary trial of Saif as that would allow the authorities to pursue the remaining officials of the former regime hiding in neighboring countries. “Saif is a big fish but there are many small fish still at large. We have to establish the credibility of our judicial system in order to go after the rest of them.”
Umar Khan can be found at twitter.com/umarnkhan